"What am I doing?"
This is the question I ask my father over the phone.
“Do you want me to just listen? Or are you truly seeking advice?” he asks.
“I want advice!” I plead. My pops, who has been a professional visual artist for forty years, sighs.
“The best advice I can give you is: stop trying to predict the future. You never know what is going to happen to you. There are so many opportunities out there in life - right now you can only imagine a future filled with things you have already experienced. Trust me, the adventures you have in store - you have no idea what they are going to be. You just need to be patient and open and they will come your way.”
“I’m not trying to predict the future,” I stammer. “I know my career is not going to materialize overnight. I know I need to be patient. I know it will take time. It’s just…”
“Just what?” he queries.
“I’m just terrified of not improving. I want to keep getting better as an artist, and deepening your craft is an active endeavor. I don’t want to get stuck.”
Recently, I have become aware of just how fearful I am of stagnancy, of plateau, in my art. I continually seek out opportunities that will allow for forward motion and learning - actor movement training, scene study classes, collaborators who are eager to exchange advice and ideas. I have been able to “justify” my unrelenting search for growth because - “I’m putting process over product, right? And, that’s healthy! That’s what you’re supposed to do.” This outlook on life and art ignores the power of stillness. By continually seeking improvement and change, I have forgotten what I can learn from stopping and watching the world move around me. I have assumed that progress is a linear progression when, in fact, it is multidimensional. Rooted in place, an artist can gain infinite depth, or height. There is even much to be learned from deviating from one’s chosen path - from cutting a diagonal through the future and turning around to look at where you came from and where you thought you wanted to go.
My desire for linear progress is not going to disappear over night. To expect myself to abandon this goal completely, for the betterment of my life and art, would also be counterproductive. In a sense, I would still be acting out of the need to do what is right and good. I can, however, promise to appreciate whatever situation I find myself in - be it one of movement, stillness, progress, or stagnancy. Furthermore, I can work to release the value judgment I seem to place on every situation or activity I find myself in - “is this a learning opportunity?” Of course it is, no matter what the situation happens to be.
“Nothing can surpass the mystery of stillness” — e e cummings